Bahrain Grand Prix: money vs human rights?

The World Motor Sport Council – Formula One’s ruling body – is to decide today whether or not to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in the face of violent suppression of human rights protests in the country.

The oil-rich state was due to host this year’s opening race back in March, but this was postponed due to the anti-government protests and the brutal response by the Gulf kingdom’s authorities. Indeed, according to news reports, a quarter of the staff of the government-owned Bahrain International Circuit, the site of the Grand Prix, have been arrested or dismissed in recent weeks.

Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have asked Formula 1’s governing body to reschedule rather than cancel the race, but voices are being raised against the race.

Human Rights Watch has questioned whether a successful Formula One event could be held in Bahrain, given the ongoing government campaign of arbitrary arrests, detentions and alleged torture.

Now former world champion and current president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, Damon Hill, has joined the campaign:

This crisis is an opportunity for Formula 1 to show it cares about all people and their human rights. True peace has nothing to do with creating calm through the use of violent repression.

Bahrain has restored order but the methods have been questioned by many reliable journalists and human rights organisations. If Formula 1 agrees to race in Bahrain it will forever have the blight of association with repressive methods to achieve order.

True peace can only be achieved peacefully. The right thing to do, in my view, is to not race in Bahrain until these doubts have been removed.

More concisely, driver Mark Webber has voiced opposition via Twitter:

When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport.

What do you think? Can Formula 1 and ethics mix?

UPDATE: FIA approves return of Bahrain Grand Prix to Formula 1 calendar – BBC.

FURTHER UPDATE: Bahrain police open fire at protesters in capital – AP. (so much for lifting the ‘state of emergency’)

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan

  • joeCanuck

    No, they can not mix. A country which brutally puts down demands for decency and democracy should not be given any welcome in the universally (generally) acceptable standards of human dignity.

  • Banjaxed

    Unfortunately, oil and money (unlike water) do mix.

  • Protestors should aim their protests at the BBC and call for the race not to be broadcast. Settling on a target nearer home curiously enough will generate more publicity and debate than merely focusing on the race itself. It will move from a sportsnews item to a fully fledged lead news headline.

  • joeCanuck

    Good suggestion, Articles.

  • Turgon

    Patrick Corrigan,
    Formula 1 is such a bizarre sport that I think we should be unsurprised that it makes decisions such as this one. In actual fact it has been having trouble for a number of years in getting adequate support so moving to these countries with extremely dubious regimes is no doubt largely about money and keeping relevance for itself.

    Most of the major motor manufacturers have much less input into the teams than they used to. Only Ferrari largely for historical reasons still seems fully committed. The other big sports car companies use the Le Mans 24 hours and other events to promote their cars and technology (eg Audi and Porsche).

    One of the problems is the continuous rule changes which require manufacturers to produce new solutions to largely arbitrary restrictions imposed on them. The rule changes are usually to try to make the racing closer and teams essentially have to find tricks to get around a given rule: if that solution is too successful and one team’s cars become much better a new rule is usually promptly introduced to ban it.

    Hence, the continuous evolution of the F1 cars has almost no trickle down effect to the cars we all buy: once it did; newer semi automatic gear boxes etc. were once pioneered in F1 years ago.

    For the above reason most serious car manufacturers have abandoned the sport and hence, it needs new money – leading to the dubious regimes.

    There are new rules on the car engines which may bring back some of the larger manufacturers who themselves are far from non ethical companies. Hence, taking the campaign to them (the car companies) might be the best solution for addressing problems with the location of the races. Since most of the teams are actually based in the UK I doubt they really want to have to transport everything half way round the world every few weeks so they might be quite happy to avoid some of these places.

  • damon

    Fair play to Damon Hill and Mark Webber.
    There’s no way they should hold the race there. And focussing on the BBC not to show it is a good idea.
    I listened to Bahrain’s spokesman for the Grand Prix yesterday, and he just talked flannel and nonsense.
    Everything was getting back to normal he said. Things were now calm and reconciliation was at hand.
    But when asked about events and demonstrations that very day – yesterday, he admitted he hadn’t a clue as he didn’t follow these things that closely.
    People were welcome to come to Bahrain to see for themselves though how peaceful it was he said.
    Yet journalists have said they get followed about by the police when they try to visit Shia neighbourhoods and talk to people there.

  • ThomasMourne

    The absence of ethics in professional sport is a major problem.

    Bribery, drug abuse, result fixing, exploitation of the young – it is difficult to think of a honest sport nowadays.

    Supporters who contribute their hard-earned money to these ‘sports’ are part of the problem.

  • dodrade

    Despite the announcement I will be surprised if this does go ahead after all.